Parents protest school peanut ban in Kentucky
Posted on Fri, Aug. 20, 2004
Ashland city school bans all peanut products
Allergies prompt peanut restriction; some parents protest rule
By Cassondra Kirby
HERALD-LEADER STAFF WRITER
A ban on peanuts and peanut products at one Kentucky school has some parents feeling like their rights have been violated.
Hager Elementary, in Boyd County, sent letters home notifying parents of its recent decision to ban all peanut products from the school -- including cafeteria shelves, snack machines and packed lunches -- for the safety of students who have a life-threatening allergy associated with peanuts.
Parent Larry Hamlin said he thinks the ban is "Nazi-like" and doesn't take the needs of other students into consideration.
"That's what really aggravates me: They don't check the other 99 children in the group that may be vegetarians and rely on peanut butter for protein, like my son does," said Hamlin, who has two children attending the school.
When he took his complaint to school officials, however, Hamlin said he was told to replace his son's peanut butter sandwich with a jelly or cheese one.
Hamlin said his son-shouldn't have to make this switch and that the ban is violating his rights.
Ashland Independent Superintendent Phil Eason said he doesn't agree with that. "When you compare putting some people at an inconvenience to threatening the life of another, there's no contest," he said.
Eason held a meeting last night to explain the importance of providing a safe environment for students to parents who may not understand the need for the ban.
Eason and school board member Patricia Hall said the decision to ban these products were made after consulting several area pediatricians and an allergy specialist. According to Eason, the medical professionals said that without a complete school ban, there would be at least one child who could not attend because of the severity of a peanut allergy.
Beth Miller, director of asthma, allergy and sinus clinics at the University of Kentucky, said a severe peanut allergy needs to be taken seriously because it can be fatal.
She said some people are so sensitive, they can have a reaction after touching another person who has eaten peanuts. Others feel sick after they eat or, in rare cases, breathe the vapor of a peanut product.
Eason said children with severe allergic reactions have epinephrine, a drug to treat the reaction, to be used if a child comes in contact with peanut products.
Eason, who said there are several who have the allergy, said if a child wants to attend school in his district, it's his job to make sure the child is safe.
Because peanut products, such as peanut oil, are found mixed in many foods, parent Gene Lebrun thinks the ban will be impossible to police.
"There is no way to enforce this unless he (the superintendent) plans to have a chemist set up to check lunches," Lebrun said. The ban "is not going to stop me from any habits that we have."
Eason said if someone intentionally violates the ban, action will be taken, but he didn't give specifics.
Although Hager Elementary isn't the first school in Kentucky to ban peanut products, it might be the only one that has created such an uproar.
Officials in the Russell Independent school district, which adjoins Hager Elementary, said they have had only one complaint since their ban was implemented several years ago.
"I don't know why there's a problem in Ashland," said Dennis Chambers, food-services director for the district. "I don't know what could be more important than trying to keep a child safe."
Hope Kelley, the mother of a peanut-allergic child at Russell Primary, said when her daughter was 2 years old, she gave her peanut butter. Her allergic reaction included swelling and hives. Some doctors told the mother that her daughter's next exposure could kill her. She said the peanut product ban eases her worries some.
"I don't think people understand how serious this can be, and my child is not the only one out there with this allergy," she said.
Some Fayette County schools also have similar peanut bans and restrictions, said Rachel Jones, Fayette County School food-services director.
Jones said Ashland Elementary in Lexington is under a complete peanut-product ban, while other schools have accommodations, such as a separate eating table for allergic students.
Jones said her office hasn't received any complaints.
Brad Hughes, spokesman for the Kentucky School Board Association, said he doesn't know why anyone would be against a peanut-product ban.
"It's not like they want to ban Nike sneakers in the school," he said. "They are doing it to protect the child's health, and that is hard to argue with."
Still, the problem remains that some Hager Elementary parents think a ban is too unreasonable and that other precautions would solve the problem.
Miller would not say whether she thinks the ban is really necessary, but she did say another option for a child with severe peanut allergies is for parents to pack a lunch and for teachers to make sure the child eats only what is packed, rather than monitoring what everyone in the school is bringing and eating for lunch.